Schools down 61 students
By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter
The official counts are in, and enrollment in the Libby school system — used to calculate state funding — is down 61 students from last year.
Based on an average of student counts in October and February, the numbers are about what has been expected, school superintendent Kirby Maki told the Libby School Board on Tuesday. Last year, the district lost 170 students, a bigger hit than any other school system in the state, ³but we¹re still afloat,² Maki said.
Around 85 students are expected to enroll in kindergarten next year, about the same number as this year. This year¹s graduating class has 126 students. Projections call for an annual loss of 50 to 60 students per year for the next few years as larger classes graduate and are replaced by a smaller number of incoming students.
³That¹s going to go on for a while, but if we know that we¹re pretty well prepared,² Maki said.
At current funding levels, the decline in enrollment would mean a loss to the district of around $300,000 in state assistance next year. But Gov. Brian Schweitzer is pressing the Montana Legislature to increase funding for schools, promoting a plan to boost funding K-12 education by $80 million over the next two years. Schweitzer¹s plan includes around $67 million for school district general funds, with $13.9 million targeted for districts with declining enrollment.
³My best guess would be we¹re going to get enough to balance the budget,² Maki said.
A number of teachers will be retiring at the end of the current school year, but the district won¹t be able to realize major savings by not replacing them, Maki said. Most of those positions will have to be re-filled to meet accreditation requirements, and the district may even need to increase the number of teachers at the elementary level, he told the board.
³The savings will have to come where we save in certain line items, or we set our priorities and we don¹t hire people back in certain areas,² he said.
While the board hasn¹t been planning to seek a levy increase this year, Maki reminded the trustees that the deadline to make a decision is approaching.
³If you had any thoughts on doing it, your time is running out,² he said.
The final date to get a levy request on the May ballot is March 24. The board has until then to think about it, Maki said.
³Do we need to go there or not?² he said. ³I¹m not saying that we do, but it¹s there if you want to look at it.²